Mr Horrible's Seedy Theatre House (Talmud Yerushalmi, Taanit 1:4)
Mr Horrible's Seedy Theatre House
In the section below, a Jewish man named Pantokaka ("Mr Horrible"), a proprietor of a theatre house and an escort service, was observed to have his prayers for rain answered by God. Rabbi Abbahu was confused by this. How can so irreligious and sinful a man be worthy of divine favour? How can it be that God listens to his prayers above all the others in the community? Pantokaka responds to Rabbi Abbahu that he once met a woman desperate to free her husband from imprisonment and was so moved by her plight that he sold all of his possessions so that she would have enough money to pay for her husband's freedom.
אִיתְחֲמֵי לְרִבִּי אַבָּהוּ. פַּנְטֳקַקָּה יַצְלִי וַאֲתֵי מִיטְרָא. שְׁלַח רִבִּי אַבָּהוּ וְאַייתִיתֵיהּ. אֲמַר לֵיהּ. מָה אוּמְנָךְ. אֲמַר לֵיהּ. חָמֵשׁ עֲבֵירָן הַהוּא גוֹבְרָא עֲבִיד בְּכָל־יוֹם. מוֹגַר זַנְייָתָא. מְשַׁפֵּר תֵײַטְרוֹן. מְעִיל מָנֵיהוֹן לְבָנֵי. מְטַפֵּחַ וּמְרַקֵּד קֳדָמֵיהוֹן. וּמַקִּישׁ בְּבַבּוּלִייָא קֳדָמֵיהוֹן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ. וּמַה טִיבוּ עֲבַדְתָּ. אֲמַר לֵיהּ. חַד זְמַן הֶוָה הַהוּא גַבְרָא מַשְׁפַּר תֵײַטְרוֹן. אֲתַת חָדָא אִיתָא וְקָמַת לָהּ חוֹרֵי עֲמוּדָא. בַּכְייָא. וְאָֽמְרִת לָהּ. מַה לִיךְ. וְאָֽמְרָה לִי. בַּעֲלָהּ דְּהִיא אִיתְּתַא חֲבִישׁ וַאֲנָא בְעָייָא מֵיחְמֵי מַה מִעֲבַד וּמַפְנִינֵהּ. וְזָֽבְנִית עַרֵסִי וּפְרוֹס עַרְסִי וְיָבִית לָהּ טִימִיתֵיהּ. וְאָֽמְרִית לָהּ. הָא לִיךְ. פְּנַיי בַּעֲלִיךְ וְלָא תֵיחַטִּיי. אֲמַר לֵיהּ. כְּדַיי אַתְּ מַצְלַייָא וּמִתְעַנְייָא.
It was seen by Rebbi Abbahu, Pantokaka shall pray and rain will come. Rebbi Abbahu sent and brought him. He asked him, what is your profession? He told him, five sins this man commits every day. He rents out prostitutes, maintains the theater, brings their garments to the baths, claps his hands and dances before them, and plays cymbals before them. They asked him, what good deed did you do? He told them, once I was maintaining the theater, when a woman came and stood behind a pillar, crying. I asked her, what is your problem? She said to me, this woman’s husband is jailed and I have to see what to do to free him. I sold my bed, and my bed-spread, gave her its value, and told her, this is yours; free your husband and do not sin. They told him, you are worthy to pray and be heard.
A closer reading of the text:
  • The man's name literally means "five evils" in Greek (penta-* = five, kaka** = evil)
  • Pantokaka's reputation precedes him, so that Rabbi Abbahu knows it is very strange that his prayers are answered but doesn't know exactly what it is that makes him such a horrible person
  • Pantokaka's work is described as a "profession" and involves all manners of entertainment for irreligious men (theatre, musical dances and performances, bathhouse services, excort services)
  • All that is required for Pantokaka to merit divine favour is a single good deed helping a woman whose husband has been imprisoned ("pidyon shvuyim")
  • Despite his running an escort service, he sacrifices everything he owns in order to prevent the woman from entering the sex trade to raise funds to release her husband
  • The Talmud emphasises that Rabbi Abbahu admits that Pantokaka's good deed makes him worthy to pray for the congregation and that the divine response is justified
And there's more...
Oddly enough, a theatre/pidyon shvuyim connection is also found in a story told by Josephus who was seeking the release of three kohanim. The person who provides him with access to the Roman empress is a Jewish actor named Alityros (or Aliturus).
Also, Rabbi Abbahu also speaks of theatre in Eicha Rabbah (apparently this was a stand up comedy skit that poked fun at Judaism). (see text below).
רַבִּי אַבָּהוּ פָּתַח (תהלים סט, יג): יָשִׂיחוּ בִי ישְׁבֵי שָׁעַר, אֵלּוּ אֻמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֵן יוֹשְׁבִין בְּבָתֵּי תַּרְטִיאוֹת וּבְבָתֵּי קַרְקְסִיאוֹת. וּנְגִינוֹת שׁוֹתֵי שֵׁכָר, מֵאַחַר שֶׁהֵן יוֹשְׁבִין וְאוֹכְלִין וְשׁוֹתִין וּמִשְׁתַּכְּרִין הֵן יוֹשְׁבִין וּמְשִׂיחִין בִּי וּמַלְעִיגִים בִּי, וְאוֹמְרִים: בְּגִין דְּלָא נִצְרוֹךְ לְחָרוֹבָא כִּיהוּדָאי. וְהֵן אוֹמְרִין אֵלּוּ לְאֵלּוּ: כַּמָּה שָׁנִים אַתְּ בָּעֵי מְחֵי, וְהֵן אוֹמְרִים כַּחֲלוּקָא דִּיהוּדָאי דְשַׁבַּתָּא, וּמַכְנִיסִין אֶת הַגַּמָּל לַטַּרְטִיאוֹת שֶׁלָּהֶם וְהַחֲלוּקִים שֶׁלּוֹ עָלָיו, וְהֵן אוֹמְרִין אֵלּוּ לְאֵלּוּ: עַל מָה זֶה מִתְאַבֵּל, וְהֵן אוֹמְרִים: הַיְּהוּדִים הַלָּלוּ שׁוֹמְרֵי שְׁבִיעִית הֵן וְאֵין לָהֶם יָרָק וְאָכְלוּ הַחוֹחִים שֶׁל זֶה וְהוּא מִתְאַבֵּל עֲלֵיהֶם. וּמַכְנִיסִים אֶת הַמֵּתִים לְתֵיַטְרוֹן שֶׁלָּהֶם וְרֹאשׁוֹ מְגֻלָּח, וְהֵן אוֹמְרִין אֵלּוּ לְאֵלּוּ: עַל מָה רֹאשׁוֹ שֶׁל זֶה מְגֻלָּח, וְהוּא אוֹמֵר: הַיְּהוּדִים הַלָּלוּ שׁוֹמְרֵי שַׁבָּתוֹת הֵן, וְכָל מַה שֶּׁהֵן יְגֵעִין כָּל יְמוֹת הַשַּׁבָּת אוֹכְלִין בְּשַׁבָּת, וְאֵין לָהֶם עֵצִים לְבַשֵּׁל בָּהֶן וְהֵן שׁוֹבְרִין מִטּוֹתֵיהֶן וּמְבַשְּׁלִין בָּהֶן, וְהֵם יְשֵׁנִים בָּאָרֶץ וּמִתְעַפְּרִים בֶּעָפָר, וְסָכִין בְּשֶׁמֶן, לְפִיכָךְ הַשֶּׁמֶן בְּיֹקֶר. דָּבָר אַחֵר, יָשִׂיחוּ בִי ישְׁבֵי שָׁעַר, אֵלּוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁהֵן יוֹשְׁבִין בְּבָתֵּי כְנֵסִיּוֹת וּבְבָתֵּי מִדְרָשׁוֹת. וּנְגִינוֹת שׁוֹתֵי שֵׁכָר, מֵאַחַר שֶׁהֵן יוֹשְׁבִין וְאוֹכְלִין וְשׁוֹתִין וּמִשְׁתַּכְּרִין בִּסְעוּדַת תִּשְׁעָה בְּאָב, יוֹשְׁבִין וְקוֹרְאִין קִינִין וּנְהִי וְאֵיכָה.
Rabbi Abbahu began: “Those who sit at the gate talk about me” (Psalms 69:13) – these are the nations of the world, who sit in theaters and circuses. “I am the subject of songs by ale drinkers” (Psalms 69:13) – after they sit, eat, drink, and become intoxicated, they sit, speak about me, mock me, and say: So that we will not need to eat carobs like the Jews. They would say to each other: How many years do you want to live? They would say: Like the Shabbat garment of the Jews. They would bring the camel into their theaters with its garments on it. They would say to each other: Why is this one mourning? They would say: These Jews observe the Sabbatical Year, and they do not have any vegetation, and they eat its thorns, and it is mourning over them. They would bring the dead into their theater, and its head was shaved. They would say to each other: Why is this one’s head shaved? He would say: These Jews are Shabbat observers, and everything for which they exert themselves all the days of the week, they eat on Shabbat. They do not have wood with which to cook, and they break their beds and cook with them. They sleep on the ground and become covered with dirt, and they smear themselves with oil. Therefore, the oil is expensive.Another matter: “Those who sit at the gate talk about me” (Psalms 69:13) – these are Israel, who sit in the synagogues and study halls. “I am the subject of songs by ale drinkers” (Psalms 69:13) – after they sit, eat, drink, and become intoxicated at the feast prior to the ninth of Av, they sit and recite elegies, dirges, and Lamentations.